DETROIT - The Cleveland Browns kicked off the Kelly Holcomb era Saturday night at Ford Field, but with the decision finally made at quarterback, most of the attention in the third game of the preseason was focused on the Browns' disappointing first-team defense.
The No. 1 defense struggled again in the Browns' 38-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, raising more red flags as they inch closer to the start of the regular season.
Lions second-year quarterback Joey Harrington torched the Browns' secondary, completing 15-of-20 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in leading the Lions to a 13-10 first-half lead.
When backup Mike McMahon replaced Harrington at the start of the third quarter, he quickly burned the Browns starting defense - and cornerback Anthony Henry - for a 37-yard pass to Bill Schroeder, setting up a 35-yard Jason Hanson field goal.
McMahon would add a 1-yard touchdown scramble for a 24-10 lead with 6:05 remaining in the third quarter after the Browns' first-team defense had retired to the bench.
The nightmare continued as McMahon kept his third-quarter rolling with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Anderson to make the score 31-10.
What made the defensive performance so alarming was the fact that this third preseason game was supposed to be the main dress rehearsal for the upcoming regular season. In the previous two exhibition outings, the Browns did little game-planning as they tried to identify a few playmakers. The Browns treated Saturday as a mock regular-season game, scheming on defense and playing the starters into the third quarter.
The defensive effort wasn't all horrible. Just most of it.
Underachieving defensive tackle Gerard Warren offered some early hope, pressuring Harrington on the game's second play and forcing him to overthrow a deep throw down the middle of the field that safety Earl Little intercepted.
It was one of the few times the Browns managed to put heat on a Lions quarterback.
Harrington stood in the pocket all day on his lone touchdown pass, finally spotting Scotty Anderson as he ran alone in the back of the end zone. The easy 4-yard touchdown pass converted a fourth-down and gave the Lions a 10-3 lead with 7:50 remaining in the first half.
The defensive low-lights included another zero-tackle performance by Warren, who has yet to record a single tackle through three preseason games.
Fellow first-round pick Courtney Brown was equally ineffective in his first game action since game 12 of last season. Brown, who had microfracture surgery on his knee in the offseason, started at defensive end, but did not record a tackle or a pressure while splitting time with Mark Word.
Other than simply getting a chance to strap on a helmet against a real opponent, Brown's performance did nothing to offer any hope that he could provide a spark to the struggling unit.
In his first game as the Browns' official starting quarterback, Holcomb had an up-and-down night.
He looked good in hitting Quincy Morgan on a 6-yard slant for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
He looked laughably bad in losing the handle on the football as he cocked his arm to pass early in the second quarter. The fumble, which was recovered by Lions defensive tackle James Hall, spoiled a drive that had reached the Lions' 13-yard line.
Holcomb's numbers (14-for-21, 130 yards and a 99.3 quarterback rating) were impressive, but his unforced fumble took away all the momentum the Browns were starting to build.
Tim Couch had a rough ride in his first game as a backup. After taking over to start the third quarter, Couch fumbled his first snap from center, had a tipped pass intercepted by Lions' safety Lamar Campbell, and was manhandled by Boss Bailey on a third-down sack inside the 5-yard line.
Couch did recover to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Jones, cutting the lead to 31-17 with 1:45 left in the third.
The Browns played without the services of starting running back William Green. He stayed in Cleveland, where his girlfriend, Asia, was close to giving birth to the couple's second child.